March finds me in the middle of what’s probably my busiest travel season, heading off to the many trade shows and conventions held during winter’s coldest months.

Fortunately, most associations and organizers - the Chicago-loving AHR Expo often the exception - prefer warmer climates than my home state of Michigan this time of year.

Getting out of the office, regardless of the season, allows me to see what other contractors and company representatives are seeing in their local markets and thinking about the U.S. economy.

My recent visit to the AHR Expo in New York City, which will be covered in an upcoming Snips issue, found many exhibitors happy with the event’s attendance. When I asked attendees and exhibitors about business back in their home states and communities, however, several complained it was slowing if not already slow.

Distributors from formerly booming states such as Florida said they needed to do something to spur sales.

Obviously, the HVAC and sheet metal industry is not alone in suffering the fallout from the mortgage crisis along with whatever else affects the national economy. The cooling housing market has hit many builders, affecting HVAC contractors that perform residential work.

Some homeowners are being forced out of their residences as plummeting real estate prices make refinancing their adjustable-rate mortgages impossible. The result is a lot of vacant, for-sale homes in many neighborhoods. That depresses the prices of those that do sell, making some homeowners less likely to invest in new heating equipment or other upkeep.

Worry

The situation has the federal government worried enough that President George W. Bush and congressional allies recently proposed an economic stimulus package for consumers and businesses that they hope will ward off any recession, even if it hikes the national debt.

But economists always debate the value of such moves, since they only work if people spend the extra money the government is putting into their hands. If they just use it to pay down debt or put it in the bank, that doesn’t do anything for economic growth - although that may be the prudent choice for many people.

So what’s happening in your communities? Is business doing well or are you noticing a downturn, especially those of you who perform a lot of residential work? Are homeowners cutting back on expenses like upgrading equipment? Are home builders canceling projects? And how are the commercial and industrial markets faring?

Tell me. Write me at Snips magazine, BNP Media, 2401 W. Big Beaver Road, Suite 700, Troy, MI 48084; or e-mail mcconnellm@bnpmedia.com. Include your company’s name and location, as well as your title and a way to contact you. We may use your comments in the magazine.

Polls

Speaking of opinions on the new year, if you visited www.snipsmag.com in recent weeks, you may have noticed that we’ve added an online poll section. Our first question asked visitors to predict how 2008 will be for their businesses. We’re hoping to update the polls regularly and include the results in online articles or print. If you have a suggestion for a poll question, let me know.

And as always, remember to check Today’s News Update for recent industry announcements and exclusive articles. During our coverage of January’s AHR Expo in New York, we included a brief report on some of the convention’s seminars and the Mr. Sheet Metal blog had an entry on show traffic and meeting a Manhattan celebrity chef.